Katrina Kaif captured a nation’s imagination with her tantalising performance in the wildly popular item song Sheila ki Jawani in December last year. The film, Tees Mar Khan, quickly faded into obscurity but Katrina’s sexy display of flat abs for five minutes might well have started, or at the very least cemented, a new fashion trend. For long, a voluptuous body and revealed cleavage defined what was sexy for the Indian woman. Now, thin is in. The navel is the new cleavage.Bollywood, always a quick assimilator of new fashion trends, was on to it. In March, early promotional posters of Rohan Sippy’s Dum Maaro Dum featured only the exposed midriff of Deepika Padukone. The film didn’t make a splash but Padukone’s navel baring performance in a remixed version of the iconic Dum Maaro Dum song drew millions of fans. Padukone soon emerged as the leader of the flat abs brigade, twirling her bare waist in Nescafe’s Rs 30 crore “Shake it, Baby” advertisement campaign. Padukone readily agreed to do a photo shoot for this issue of INDIA TODAY showing off her perfect midriff.Away from the big screen, the rise of the navel has led to the re-emergence of the sari. Clearly, stories about the death of the sari-pushed into oblivion by the ubiquitous salwar kameez, jeans, and trouser suits-were greatly exaggerated. And it is the younger crop of Indian fashion designers who have pushed the sari back into the mainstream. The 36-year-old Kolkata-based Sabyasachi Mukherjee is perhaps the best known of the lot. Along with saris, the midriff-revealing ghaghra-cholis have made a comeback. Designer Manish Malhotra’s Fashion Week collections regularly highlight low waisted ghaghras accompanied by short cholis. The creations of Sabyasachi, Malhotra and their fellow designers have found a market. At evening parties in Mumbai and Delhi, the very women you might have expected to sport a skirt and top two years ago now sport the old sari in a new avatar. It’s the new style statement.Our cover story written by managing editor Kaveree Bamzai traces the emergence of this new fashion trend. It is also a social trend. Indians have become more health and fitness conscious. Says fitness specialist Leena Mogre, “No one has a full figure any more. Everyone is on a diet and fitness regime.” In 2009, when Rujuta Diwekar, a celebrity nutritionist from Mumbai, who advised Kareena Kapoor on how to get a size-zero figure, published a book titled Don’t Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight, the first 20,000 copies sold out in less than a month. At least some people might have anticipated the rise of the navel well before Katrina and Deepika danced their item numbers.Curiously, the south Indian film industry has been navel gazing for a long while now. But there is a difference in aesthetics. In the south, they prefer some flesh around the abs. Says actor Priyamani who has worked in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada movies, “The size-zero phenomenon would not be appreciated down south.”To each their own. Variety is the spice of life and fashion.